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The Field, Five Weeks Out

Start this look at Texas House races with the usual caveats: Partisans — the people who tell us about this stuff — are always wrong about some of the races on their "hot" lists. Some won't pan out. Some might pan out when nobody's looking. It's a head vs. heart thing.

Start this look at Texas House races with the usual caveats: Partisans — the people who tell us about this stuff — are always wrong about some of the races on their "hot" lists. Some won't pan out. Some might pan out when nobody's looking. It's a head vs. heart thing.

The field of active races is relatively small, and you'll not find anyone sane or sober who predicts a shift of more than two or three seats from one party's column to the other.

Republicans seem more skittish at the moment, but that makes sense with the national mood and with the simple fact that defense is always more nerve-wracking than offense. The GOP holds more ground in Texas right now, and have more to lose.

A big unanswered question: Will a governor's race with two prominent independents jangle the numbers on straight-party voting? It's part of the challenger strategy in a handful of districts.

If you forced us to score the races on the list that follows (we included 18 that were mentioned one way or another by consultants, candidates, and others we've talked with), we'd put it like this. The Democrats seem most confident about their challenges to Reps. Martha Wong, Gene Seaman, Toby Goodman, and Tony Goolsby. The Republicans' favorite targets at the moment include Reps. Robby Cook, Jim McReynolds, Hubert Vo and the spot left open when former House Speaker Pete Laney decided not to run again. That's not a full list; the full list follows.

Some notes about that. We included the 2004 result from each district because we like to keep it handy and thought you might, too. The Bush/Cheney column shows the percentage of the vote the Republicans got in each House district listed. The GOP presidential ticket won in every won of these districts and generally outperformed other statewide Republicans. It tends to be a high water mark if you're wearing a red jersey and a low water mark if you're in blue. Not one winner on this list — if they were in a contested race — outdid the presidential ticket two years ago. Republicans say that's because Bush is so popular, and Democrats agree. The Democrats say marginal Republicans are in trouble without Bush on the ticket. That remains to be seen. Click here to get a printable version of the list.

Standard Equipment

The candidates for governor are filling in the blanks on their policy pages, an interesting phenomena that gives them something to talk about without interfering with the central bits in their campaigns — the stuff you've been seeing from the beginning.

It's not easy to come up with examples of politicians turning an election in the last five weeks by bringing up a new policy issue. It's possible, theoretically, but the new stuff that turns elections at the end is almost always negative.

But it can be a liability for a candidate to get caught without something to say about all the issues that come up. And they can always rely on a trusty line: "We put out the policy papers, but the press didn't cover them."

It has the advantage of being true. But reporters do file this stuff away for use later, like during a legislative session when these things come up.

We're in a parade of policy proposals from all fronts. Kinky Friedman, who's been taking out innocent bystanders with a string of politically incorrect lines lately, started his recent uninhibited quotation spree while on a tour to announce some policy ideas. Among other things, he wants to get a lid on state spending while also increasing pay for teachers and multiplying the number of National Guard troops on the Texas-Mexico border by a factor of more than six. He didn't say where he'd get the money to pay for those ideas.

Gov. Rick Perry, a former member of the House Appropriations Committee and a chief executive who once presented a budget with zeroes where the numbers usually go, proposed a list of finance reforms that includes a "real spending limit" in the budget, "transparency" that allows voters to see how his and other agencies are spending money, constitutional permission to return unspent money to taxpayers, a requirement that dedicated funds be used as intended, and he wants to crack open a budget trick that prevents governors from vetoing line items within agency budgets. Opponents swiped at that, saying he could do much of what he's proposed by just telling the agencies in his branch of government to get going. And they noted the calendar and the timing of the proposal five weeks before Election Day.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn wants to double the number of Texas Rangers and use them to beef up the state's border security. Perry's folks say most of her plan is already in place.

Former congressman Chris Bell wants the state to ensure the availability of contraceptives to victims of sexual assault. And he wants the state to add a vaccine against cervical cancer to the list of required vaccinations for pre-teenaged girls. He noted in the announcement that some people oppose the vaccine for fear it encourages girls to become sexually active. Perry, for instance, is for it, but only if parents can opt out. Bell's position prompted Cathie Adams, head of the Texas Eagle Forum, to fire off an email with the subject line "Chris Bell disqualifies himself for TX governor." Bell's campaign manager, Jason Stanford, shot back: "Cathie Adams wants women to die of cervical cancer so she can score political points. I'd tell her go to Hell, but she's apparently on her way there already."

Mining the Internet for Campaign Cash

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell's long pitch to finance and political people — his argument for why incumbent Gov. Rick Perry is beatable — is up on the Internet where anybody can see it.

There's not anything secret about the pitch, but these productions generally get burned onto DVDs and sent to supporters and potential supporters. They're not usually available to the hoi polloi. It's essentially the same pitch the candidate himself would make if he could be in front of the money folks himself.

In Bell's version, the race depends on consolidating Democratic votes while Perry and Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn split the Republican vote. That's been his line all along; here, it's coupled with appearances from other Democrats like Dallas' Ron Kirk, Austin's Kirk Watson, and East Texas' Max Sandlin. And it's a call for resources — money — right away. Through the mid-year reports, Bell's been well behind both Perry and Strayhorn in the fundraising department.

The video piece runs about 10 minutes, and it's available on YouTube. Bell argues that the Democratic base vote is in the 38 percent to 43 percent range and that he'll prevail in the five-way race if he gets that vote. A group of supporting characters — in addition to the three already mentioned — helps plug the campaign. That group includes Lyndon Olson Jr. of Waco, the former U.S. Ambassador to Sweden; U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio; and three lawyers: Fred Hagans and Tom Pirtle of Houston, and Mikal Watts of Corpus Christi.

Bell's close: "We've raised over $2 million, but we need $6 million more to ensure victory in November." The campaigns file their 30-day finance reports in a couple of weeks, and we'll be able to see what kind of response they get.

Considerably Cheaper than 2002

You've seen some of the gubernatorial finance stuff in other forms, but Texans for Public Justice put it all in a blender for a new report called "Keeping Texas Weird: The Bankrolling of the 2006 Gubernatorial Race." They rolled together all the campaign reports filed by the candidates since January 2003 (when Rick Perry's term began) through the mid-year reports filed this summer. The four candidates had raised $42.5 million altogether. Perry raised $24.3 million. Carole Keeton Strayhorn raised $12.7 million. Kinky Friedman raised $3.4 million. And Chris Bell raised $2.1 million. James Werner raised $1,400.

Some numbers really stick out. Friedman raised 21 percent of his money from people who gave less than $50. More than half came in amounts under $1,000. Nobody else was even close. Perry got 47 percent of his money in chunks of $25,000 or more. Strayhorn got 45 percent of her money that way. Out of state funding is light, especially after a run of national figures like George W. Bush and Ann Richards in state politics. Only $1.5 million of the total raised by the candidates came from the other side of the state's boundaries. Most — $1.2 million — went to Perry.

Endorsements from the Great Beyond

Ann Richards went to her grave without making a public endorsement in the Texas governor's race.

But that didn't stop her friend Liz Smith from saying the staunch Democrat would have backed Kinky Friedman.

And it didn't stop Friedman's campaign from leaping at the news and sending out a press release to make sure everyone knew about it.

That left Richards' family and former aides and supporters to walk the story back, which they did in about 12 hours time. They got Smith to say she'd only meant to compare Richards' and Friedman's common tendency to say odd and funny things to bring attention to ideas. She apologized for irritating the family. And any number of family and friends said Richards would have endorsed Democrat Chris Bell in the race because she always, always, always backed Democrats.

Smith, a close friend of the late governor, spoke at Richards' funeral. But in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, she backed out of what she wrote about Richards' political preferences: "I was jumping to an assumption, because we had talked a lot about Kinky and weird candidacies and offbeat candidacies, and things are so pathetic in Texas, I jumped to a conclusion that I shouldn't have printed."

Political Hugs

From the No Hard Feelings Department: Republican Diane Patrick of Arlington, who knocked off House Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf in the March primaries, held an Austin fundraiser. The draw? House Speaker Tom Craddick, who put Grusendorf in charge of that powerful committee.

• Add Republican Rep. Martha Wong of Houston to the list of candidates endorsed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform. They say they're backing the incumbent because her opponent, Democrat Ellen Cohen, is backed by lawyers on the other side of TLR's legislative agenda. Wong supported a state law limiting malpractice lawsuits against doctors; Cohen, the group says, was against that change in the law.

• Add Democrat Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, to the list of candidates with an endorsement from the Texas Parent PAC, an Austin group that jumped into the endorsement business before this year's primaries. He's running against Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Cindy Werner, the Republican running against Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-DeSoto, says Davis doesn't live in the legislative district and ought to be tossed from office. Davis fired back with both barrels, saying she does too live in the district, and towel-snapping her opponent for a record that, according to Davis, includes runs for office every two years since 1996. She says Werner, who now lives in Duncanville, has run as a Democrat, an independent, and a Republican, and from addresses in Houston, Arlington, Dallas, Carrollton, and now Duncanville. Werner says she's asked Dallas County's district attorney and the county elections department to look into her allegations about Davis. She says the incumbent lives in DeSoto, but at an address outside the district.

• The state's Office of Rural Community Affairs, created less than ten years ago, should be folded into the Texas Department of Agriculture, according to the staff of the state's Sunset Commission. They recommend abolishing that agency and letting the Ag department run its block grant and other programs.

• Follow-up: The Texas Ethics Commission punted, delaying until December a decision on whether the law requires officeholders who receive checks as gifts to report the amounts in addition to the fact that they got checks. Their draft opinion says the law doesn't require the amount to be disclosed.

• From the headlines to you: Congressional candidate Lukin Gilliland called on the federal government to reimburse Texas spinach growers for the money lost because of a short spinach ban that followed an e. coli outbreak from California spinach. And Texas House candidate Larry Durrett chased a Freeport headline about the Mexican pledge of allegiance being recited on 16 September by grade-schoolers learning about that Mexican national holiday. He wants to prohibit public school officials from "promoting or requiring" the recital of any pledge of allegiance other than the one to the U.S. flag.

Political People and Their Moves

Patti McCandless joins Terral Smith & Associates as a lobbyist after 10 years at Wellpoint, a managed care company, where she was legal counsel and headed governmental affairs. She did time at the Texas Department of Insurance before going to Wellpoint.

Lisa Barsumian is the new head of government affairs for the Texas Dental Association. She's been at Strategic Partnerships since returning to Texas from New Mexico earlier this year.

Time Warner Cable named Ron McMillan the new regional veep for government affairs. He's been at their Houston division for 15 years, though he's been involved with their political action committee and with their trade group, the Texas Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Lynton Allred is leaving the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association at the end of the year, after ten years at the helm. Chris Newton, TPCA's general counsel, will take the top job. They're juggling duties in their lobby shop, too, but Doug DuBois Jr. and Scott Fisher are still in there.

Lesley Ramsey leaves the Texas Fair Trade Coalition to become outreach director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst hired a couple of broadcasters to handle his press and public communications. Rich Parsons left Austin's KXAN-TV and the Capitol press corps to be the Lite Guv's new press secretary. And Mike Wintermute, a former radio reporter who works in California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration and who worked for that state's Republican Party before that, will be communications director.

Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry appointed Major General Charles Gary Rodriguez to Lieutenant General in the Texas Army National Guard. Rodriguez is the state's adjutant general.

Dan Mike Bird of Quanah, a retired district attorney and the former Hardeman County judge, is the new judge of the 46th Judicial District Court. He'll serve until the general election.

Barry Bryan of Lufkin is Perry's pick for the 217th Judicial District Court in Angelina County. He's a county court at law judge.

Judge Dean Rucker of Midland is the new presiding judge of the 7th Administrative Judicial Region, which covers 40 counties.

The Guv appointed Gloria Ray of San Antonio to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. She's retired from Kelly Air Force Base.

And Frank Denton of Conroe won Perry's nod for a spot on the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation. He was a candidate for Senate earlier this year but lost in a four-person GOP primary.

Quotes of the Week

Randy Pullen, a Republican national committeeman from Arizona, in The New York Times, on complaints that voter laws discriminate in favor of his party: "Democrats believe they represent stupid people who are not smart enough to vote. I do not."

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, in the Waxahachie Daily Light, after Rick Perry's campaign pulled a Ventura quote critical of religion from a 1999 Playboy magazine article: "I didn't realize Gov. Perry held on to eight years' worth of Playboy. Was he reading for the articles or looking at the pictures?"

Democrat Chris Bell, in a taping for the public television series Texas Monthly Talks: "It's one thing to talk about a big tent. It's another thing to live in one."

Gossip columnist Liz Smith, quoted in the Houston Chronicle after implying the late Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, was for Kinky Friedman in the Texas governor's race: "Let's just say I was mistaken."

Friedman, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on the slew of quotes that has recently kept him in the papers: "The unforeseen event is it is shoring up the support of every redneck in Texas. That's a lot of votes."

Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 15, 2 October 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2006 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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